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11 posts from January 2014


amazing opportunities

Name: Emma
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2014
Home School: University of Iowa

amazing opportunities

These past few weeks in Barcelona have somewhat been a blur.  Not only is it truly amazing how many things I have seen and done here, but it is also amazing how many things I have not yet seen or done.  Before I left for this trip, four months seemed like a perfectly adequate amount of time to do everything I wanted to do, but now, I realize that it is not nearly enough time (though I can always use this as an excuse to come back!). 

I’ve already done and seen so many incredible things and have gotten to take advantage of amazing opportunities.  For example, last weekend, we traveled as a program to Madrid and took a day trip to Toledo, an ancient Spanish city with incredible views and amazing historical exhibits.  Another highlight of the trip was our visit to the Reina Sofia Museum, which is home to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, an incredibly moving mural and one of Picasso’s most famous works.

Guernica (


 Palacio Real de Madrid


These opportunities have been amazing, but I think the opportunity I’m most thankful for and that I think will be the most rewarding is the opportunity to volunteer as a student teacher.  Every Wednesday, starting this past week, I get to act as a student teaching assistant at a school called Escola Pia, which is only a block away from CIEE.  There, for an hour, I get to help ten Spanish students learn and practice their English.  After one session, I can already tell that it will be my most rewarding experience here.  On Wednesday, we talked the entire session with almost no gaps in conversation.  We spent the hour introducing ourselves and talking about the various cultural differences between the United States and Spain/Catalonia. 

My teaching partner, Vivian (who’s also in my program) and I were impressed with the students’ English speaking abilities and intrigued by their impressions of American culture.  We had interesting discussions about the differences in our two countries’ education and health systems; a small conversation about American slang, of which we will expand on next week; and the Greek system in American universities (Vivian led this conversation, as I am not in a sorority).  I’m incredibly glad that I chose to take part in this wonderful volunteering opportunity and am excited for the rest of the semester to unfold!


Vivian, my teaching partner, and I in Madrid


Architecture & Design, Spring 2014, Issue I


Right here, right now!

After one month experiencing the city, the students have already had the chance to understand what study abroad means – not just to study and see the local culture, but being able to notice that the city is a living environment where things are happening... right here right now!

| 1 | Urban Photo Project in El Raval

Doors in Raval by Graeme, University of Colorado Boulder

During a field trip with their “The city and Visual Culture” class, students had to take pictures of El Raval, one of the neighborhoods in the Old City. They were asked to express, through the lens, the contrasts happening there (social, cultural, ethnic, architectural, visual…). Graeme, from University of Colorado Boulder, focused in some doors, “which are beautiful architectural features of this district, and are defaced by pointless graffiti and social expression”. For him, the mix between the old architecture and the social visual expression embodies how, on one hand these paintings are destroying the important historic individuality of El Raval and how on the other hand, it provides a visual representation of the diversity (social, racial and political) of one of the most meaningful neighborhoods in Barcelona.

| 2 | Culture shock? What’s that?

After his first month living in Barcelona, Evan, from University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, explains how different it is attending school in Barcelona rather than in US. For him, the main difference is that he needs to be fully focused in the class to understand and catch what the professor and other students are saying in Spanish, “not like in a class taught English, where you might disconnect for a while and then get what the professor is saying.” This is especially difficult when the majority of his classes are workshops and everybody is talking at the very same time! That’s so Spanish!

 In addition, Evan learned some Spanish idioms, like “gemelos” (the Spanish word for “calf muscle”… and "cufflinks"… and "twins"…), which makes much more sense in Spanish than in English; or the meaning of “estar hecho polvo”, a idiom to express that you are tired (literally meaning something like “to be made of dust”).

Evan and another AD student speaking with their professor

| 3 | BCN under Transformation

AD students at the new structure built to house the Encants Market

 The new “Mercat dels Encants”, by b720 Fermín Vázquez Arquitectos is in the “Top 20” in the “Building of the Year 2014” Awards. The project’s main objective was to maintain the open nature of the old outdoor fleamarket Els Encants while bringing it indoors. The design does not create a commercial area on various levels, but rather a continuous commercial area, with slightly inclined planes intertwining and generating an endless, escher-like loop which links stalls and small shops.

The roof of the market reflects busy shoppers below

This project, which has highly increased the number of customers to the flea market, takes part in a wider project which will be development this year to transform the current “Gloriès Ring” into a big green area, surrounded by some of the most representative buildings of the contemporary architecture in the city, like Agbar Tower, DHUB and now the “Mercat del Encants”.


Virtual image of the one of the projects for the renovation of Gloriès Square
Virtual image of the one of the projects for the renovation of Gloriès Square


Liberal Arts, Spring 2014, Issue I


Students have been very busy these last three weeks since they arrived. We held orientation, the CIEE Spanish intensive classes and UPF host institution classes started, students participated in several tours and excursions, the first language exchange meeting with locals took place, and they even had time to shake it in a Salsa class! Here are some details:


During the three-day orientation, students had the opportunity to meet the group, got important information on health & safety, academics and local cultural, started to familiarize themselves with the city, met their Guardian Angels and toured the Gothic Quarter. In an effort to engage students in a intercultural competence experience, we held a special talk titled: “How to break the American Bubble,” in which we give them some tools and advice on how to get out of their comfort zone in order to have a more successful and enriching experience.



CIEE Intensive Spanish class

Upon taking the Spanish level test, students are placed into two CIEE Intensive Spanish classes: Advanced Grammar, Composition and Conversation or Advanced Spanish for Academic Discourse. Out of classroom activities are held in these courses, like a visit to a local market to practice food vocabulary and ordering expressions or a scanvenger hunt through a unique neighborhood in Barcelona, Gracia, where they have to ask the locals questions and even find a Civil War bomb shelter.  In addition, they have to do oral presentations in class to review a Spanish film or to present a cultural theme. The intensive classes are a great way to get them ready to start using their spanish in the classroom throughout the semester.



Club Quijotes and Salsa Class!

LA students can join the Club Quijotes, a club to promote the use of Spanish as well as increase their intercultural knowledge through different cultural activities in the society. The first activity is a Salsa dancing workshop! Students learned some salsa moves and enjoyed the workshop. Some of the students demonstrated a good ability to dance already!




Peanut Butter and other reasons I love my homestay

Name: Ellen
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2014
Home School: University of Colorado Boulder

Before coming to Barcelona I was really torn on which housing assignment to choose. Long story short my advisor from home convinced me to do a homestay and I can honestly say it is the best decision I have made so far. My host family consists of a single mom around the age of 65. She is the absolute cutest women in the world and from day one treated me like her own child. The first time I left the house she ran through a long list of things I may have forgotten. She asked if I had a coat, the keys, an umbrella in case it rained, money, my phone, and my metro ticket. Typical questions my real mom would ask.

A few days after we moved in she heard me talking about how much I love and miss peanut butter. Spoiler alert: they do not eat peanut butter here. The next day I walked into the kitchen for breakfast to find a jar of peanut butter sitting on the table. Not only did she manage to find peanut butter, but she also set out every possible type of bread or fruit that you could eat peanut butter with. She laughed as she watched me try it on all the different things she set out, and I eventually convinced her to try in on a cracker. She loved it.

One detail I forgot to mention, my host mom only speaks Spanish. At times this is a little challenging but we always manage to either laugh and forget about it, or find a dictionary to look up the words we don’t know. Imagine trying to explain how you blew the fuse in the bathroom with your hairdryer in Spanish. I definitely did not learn those vocab words back in the states. No matter what the situation is, it always ends in both of us laughing and eventually figuring it out.

Living in a home stay has made my transition to Barcelona so much easier. Although I am half way across the world from my real home or family, I already feel like I can call this place home. I am beyond excited for the rest of the semester with my host mom!



cafe con leche

Name: Hanna
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2014
Home School: University of Colorado Boulder

Whenever I drink coffee in the States I’m running to my 8 am class, hoping I have a spare $5 to give to the incredibly overpriced, yet convenient coffee shop on my way to campus.  In Spain, it’s very different.  No one rushes down the street holding their venti Starbucks as if it’s the key to their own sanity. They, instead, enjoy every taste their coffee brings, which I must say is incomparable to the states.  


I've found enjoying a cafe con leche with my new friends has been one of the most enjoyable way to spend my time here in Barcelona. A few hours becomes a combination of endless conversation with new friends and incredibly enjoyable people watching. 

TheoTheHeroOne day after orientation activities we were having cafe con leche in a little plaza in the Gothic area.  Two men came in the middle of the plaza and began playing lovely music.  Within about ten minutes about several police showed up and actually ticketed him and confiscated his chello! Apparently in the city of Barcelona it is actually illegal to play music in the streets without a permit, something this guy clearly did not have. 


It was a very emotional event for everyone in the plaza.  People were yelling "muy feo" (very ugly) at the police in disapproval.  The man knew he was going to get in trouble and attempted to give his chello to anyone besides the police.  A guy in my program actually tried to help this guy out but then figured it was probably not a good idea to get involved with anything that involves the police! The police ended up taking the man's chello away in a large van.  It is little things like that, that I have been able to while enjoying the Spanish tradition of "cafe con leche".  



Economics & Culture, Spring 2014, Issue I


King´s Day Cakes


I can already tell that the EC Spring group will get along just fine!  Though having spent only two days together, albeit very intensively in terms of activities and time during the Orientation period, it seems that these new students have known each other from the very beginning.  At the start of our first lunch as a group, EC students were asking each other many questions and by the time the desserts and coffee had come around, they had begun to poke fun at each other´s idiosyncrasies and exchanged jokes about each other´s home schools. Another sign that indicated to me that they were becoming a well-bonded group was their decision to make their first week-end trip together: 11 out of the 12 students (the remaining one could not join as he had previously set plans to travel to another city with other CIEE students in the Business and Culture Program) flew to Madrid and all survived and many had explained that they had “an amazing time”.

I have little doubt that the rest of the semester will progress as harmoniously for our Spring EC students.

EC Group SPRING 14


One way in which we encourage our students to venture out and to start conversing with local Catalan and Spanish people is via a scavenger hunt that is organized in one of Barcelona's most festive and authentic barrios called “Gracia”.   Rachel from Tufts University found the scavenger hunt in Gracia to be “a great way to get to know the neighborhood and explore the area” and “felt accomplished that I could make my way around using a map and asking locals for help!”  Another EC participant, Zachary from Texas Christian University had commented that “spending the late morning in Gracia was an enlightening experience as it revealed a historical and lively side of Barcelona.”  He added that “while I had seen the main sights already, I felt truly immersed in the Catalan capital during my exploration of Gracia.”  We anticipate that these students will apply their newly gained skills and confidence the next time they find themselves in an unfamiliar area of Barcelona.

DSC_1565  IMG_2305


We have seen in recent semesters an increasing interest from our students to do volunteer work during their study abroad semester.  The option to do a one-time volunteering “stint”, from activities such as distributing donated food, handing out water during a fund-raising marathon, etc. is particularly popular.  Laura, CIEE´s staff member who organizes volunteering opportunities, cites that these activities “immensely enrich the overall study abroad experience for our students by getting them involved in Barcelona in ways that they normal would not do on their own.”  At the beginning of every semester Laura holds a volunteering presentation to inform all students the organizations with whom we collaborate and how they can participate.  She stresses to them that “volunteering is an ideal way to practice their Spanish and to interact with people in the local communities while at the same time lending a hand to children, schools and/or different immigrant groups in the city.”



Business & Culture, Spring 2014, Issue I


The Kings Have Arrived... And so have the students!

The students arrived in Barcelona tired and jet lagged on January 2nd. We threw them immediately into a week of orientation meetings, talks and tours, but they were saved by a day off on January 6th to celebrate Kings Day and the end of the Christmas season. 

What is Kings Day? Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas and marks the day the wisemen arrived in Bethleham with their gifts. Dia de Los Reyes is as important as Christmas itself here, especially for kids, as this is the day when they get their presents! Read more about the three kings.

Students went out on Jan 5th to watch the parade with their Guardian Angels (local student guides) as the kings arrived in the city, ready to distribute their toys. Thanks to Eric, from University of Vermont for the photos! See more of his incredible photography on his blog.


Celebrating the Holiday with Host Families

A popular tradition on this day is to eat a Roscón, a sweet, donut-shaped bread. A plastic toy and a bean are buried inside the mixture. He or she who finds the toy gets good luck for the next year and is king for the day (with a crown and all), he who finds the bean, pays for the Roscon.

Asya, from Indiana University, wrote a blog post about living with a host family. On Kings Day "about 15 members of Ana's family came to her house for lunch... which lasted until dinner, where we chatted and shared the interesting differences between our home towns and Barcelona. It was awesome and kind of reminded me of Thanksgiving. Cynthia and I both got the king in our slices of the bread which was cute and exciting. And We woke up to gifts (a scarf, gloves, a book on Barcelona, and candies) from "the three kings" outside of our doors!" Read more here.

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Wildlife Sighting

While hiking up Tibidabo Mountain behind Barcelona on a CIEE Day Trip last weekend, we were greeted by 5 baby boar (javalí) searching for nuts. The boar are a common sight in the Collserola National Park, although they rarely come out during the day or that close to common paths. We were lucky to be able to see them, and even luckier that they didn't come with an angry mama!


After the hike we went to a restaurant to try calçots, a typical Catalan winter treat. Onions are roasted and then steamed, at which point it is time to get messy. The difficult part is taking off the charred exterior, and then you can dip the onion in romesco sauce and lower it into your mouth. Joe, from University of Minnesota demonstrates with skill:

BC Calcotadas


Kings Day with our Host Family

Name: Asya
CIEE Barcelona Program: Business & Culture
Semester: Spring 2014
Home School: Indiana University

I couldn't be happier with my decision to do a home stay! I chose it originally because I really want to learn Spanish. I know it has helped immensely already because the first day of Spanish class, all the home stay kids thought it was pretty easy!

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Cynthia and I live with Ana and her son (in his mid-twenties), who is usually gone but stops in every couple of days. Ana is wonderful and absolutely caters to Cynthia and me and really cares for us. She's a primary school Spanish teacher which has been a huge help with the language barrier as well- as she understands what concepts foreign speakers struggle with and can assist us.

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She also has a daughter who lives in Switzerland and came to visit for three king's day which was an awesome experience. About 15 members of Ana's family came to her house for lunch... Which lasted until dinner, where we chatted and shared the interesting differences between our home towns and Barcelona. It was awesome and kind of reminded me of Thanksgiving.

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Cynthia and I both got the king in our slices of the bread which was cute and exciting. And We woke up to gifts (a scarf, gloves, a book on Barcelona, and candies) from "the three kings" outside of our doors!

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Ana is the sweetest and I am sincere in saying I couldn't imagine a better situation! Seeing the culture of Spain and learning the language as fast or as well simply wouldn't be possible without the home stay option and the help of Ana!


What is Kings Day? Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas and marks the day the wisemen arrived in Bethleham with their gifts.

"January 6 - Dia de Los Reyes in Spanish - is virtually as important as Christmas itself in Spain, especially for kids, as this is the day when they get their presents! The fun starts the evening before, when the three kings lead their procession through the streets, throwing sweets to the children. The next morning, the children wake up to find their presents have been left overnight (rumors that Santa moonlights as the Three Kings when times are hard are unfounded). Read more about the three kings.

A popular tradition is to eat a Roscón, a sweet, donut-shaped bread (though much bigger than a donut) covered in glacier cherries and sugar. A plastic toy is buried inside the mixture, so don't dive in too quickly. He or she who finds the toy gets good luck for the next year (double the luck if they also ate the grapes on New Year's Eve!)." - From


First Impressions: Arrival in BCN

Name: Lena
CIEE Barcelona Program: Architecture & Design
Semester: Spring 2014
Home School: Unviersity of Colorado Boulder

Lena1Sunrise at Newark Airport

And off we go! Barcelona bound from San Francisco, with a long connection in Newark. I left SFO in a memorable California sunrise, and just minutes before we landed in BCN the sun started to glisten over the water. Not only was I lucky enough to get a window seat, but my side of the airplane got to experience the view of the Barcelona coast line, stretching around the W hotel, all the way to the mountains!

I arrived just in time for my guardian angel (local student guides that work with CIEE) to pick me and other students up from the airport. The moment I saw her I was wondering if the people here were just as beautiful as the city! Me being the usual fashion obsessed girl, I was lugging two huge 65-pound bags, more than double my weight! As I started lugging them behind me, a guardian angel helped me to the bus.

Lena2Sunrise at BCN Airport (Finally arrived!)

The moment I stepped onto the bus I still felt as if I were dreaming. We took a 15-minute bus ride from the airport to our hotel—let me tell you, 15 minutes was not long enough! The entire trip I was in awe looking at all the gorgeous architecture. It seemed to me that in Barcelona the architects and designers put more emphasis on the looks of their buildings rather than how well they function.

We arrived at the hotel and were greeted with coffee, fresh squeezed juices, finger sandwiches and pastries... oh the coffee was needed! Next, our guardian angel took us on a tour of the city. The whole time I was regretting not bringing my walking shoes! I was so distracted at all of the buildings as well as the shops that I forgot about my scrunched toes! The stores were full of so many amazing things. Being just a few days from the holiday the angels told me to hold back and wait for the sales! Ah so hard for me, but I know I have to save my money for traveling.

Lena3With Mireia Viladerrams (my guardian angel)

We made our way back to the hotel. While we waited for the second group to arrive and then had a short orientation meeting with Magda and other advisors from CIEE. Next we waited to meet our host families! I was so nervous because I have no grasp of the Spanish language but luckily I am doing shared homestay with my good friend Annika who has studied Spanish.

The moment we met our host mother Elena I knew she didn’t speak any English, oh gosh! I realized in the end this would help me more than hurt me. To make it worse we had to figure out how to fit our entire luggage into a scrunched car. After a few tries, and with the help of our architectural minds, we fit it all in! When we got to the apartment we were greeted by a door man and a small elevator (ascensor). We had to make three trips up!

When given our housing assignments weeks before we were curious what Atico meant—when we got here we found out it meant the top floor! Immediately we went out on our homestay mother’s gorgeous, spacious, and green balcony (covering a 200 square feet and flooded with exotic plants). We were astonished by the view. Next we unpacked and our mother directed us to our nearby metro stop and informed us how to buy our tickets.

Taking the metro for this first time? Well that was exciting. We met up with our CIEE group for coffee and pastries at Arggi and I headed back home. All the CIEE students are so welcoming, friendly, and excited—I know I will develop lasting friendships with some of them. Next Annika and I headed home for our 9 pm dinner…SO LATE. I am used to dinners at 5 pm! Or should I say 17:00? This military clock is really starting to get to me. The moment we walked through the door it smelled magnificent. We had three courses of vegetables, salmon, and then a candied apple for desert. As soon as I had tasted her masterpiece I knew I made the right choice committing to homestay!


 On my tour around the city for the first time.

Orientation Exploring: Parc de la Ciutadella

Name: Elizabeth
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2014
Home School: Vanderbilt University

The first week that I spent in Barcelona passed by in a blur of new faces, places and culture. With so much to do and so much to see, it was hard to decide where to start. Fortunately, a week of orientation helped solve that problem and within seven days I felt like I had already seen so much.

LC1It was safe to say I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all and was extremely refreshed when I was able to find some “me time” after classes began this week. With no clear destination set, I found myself wandering the streets of Born, entering shops and jotting down names of restaurants that looked enticing. As I aimlessly walked around I reflected on my time so far in Barcelona and how every day I fall more in love with this incredible city. Three hours of exploring passed quickly and I ended up in Parc de la Ciutadella.

LC2While I previously had heard the name of the park and knew of its location, I had no idea what to expect and was blown away by its grandeur. From the Parliament building to the lake I was in awe of the park that I had little previous knowledge of. When I discovered the Cascada tucked in the corner of the park, I fell in love even more.

LC3My afternoon spent wandering around Barcelona helped me to realize how truly beautiful Barcelona is and how lucky I am to have three more months to explore it.